Today is World Lion Day, an occasion used to raise awareness about the “King of Beasts.” Lions have been celebrated through the centuries, so most people wouldn’t be surprised that they have their own special day, but instead of simply lauding the powerful feline, World Lion Day is meant to educate people about the plight of the species.
World lion populations have plummeted in the past century. Africa’s lion numbers are at a fraction of their past levels, and there remains only a small handful of Asiatic lions (did you know about those?) found in a single location in India. Poaching, habitat loss, a general disregard for food chain and ecosystem welfare, and a lack of understanding and education about these animals is leading to their demise… you know, the usual factors when discussing just about any threatened animal these days. This article is just one example of how human mismanagement of lion populations (in this case, captive animals that don’t help wild populations in any way and have actually increased a demand for poached animals) is harming the species.
I’ve written about lions a few times over the years (a list of articles may be found at the bottom of this page), most recently when I included them in one of my New Big 5 lists. In that article, I mentioned how it’s probably my least favorite big cat. And yet, I still chose it as a worthy wildlife ambassador. Sure, lions may sleep a lot, and I don’t find them as pretty as many of the other felines I’ve photographed, but they have provided numerous interesting viewing and photo opportunities over the years. The very first wild lion I ever saw hunted and killed a wildebeest on its own!
So today is a good day to celebrate this magnificent animal: a cooperative hunter, a family cat… Sure, it’s not really the King of the Jungle, but it’s regal in its own way. Here are some of my memorable lion images and moments from my Africa trips.
In 2007, this lioness and her two cubs made a couple of appearances during my very first visit to the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.
Later during that trip, we had more close encounters, including our first good view of some big male lions. This guy made the cover of my first Wild Cats calendar years later.
At one point, a lone lioness used our safari vehicle as cover as she stalked a herd of zebras. She crept forward before eventually springing an attack. Zebras, however, are fairly smart and wary, and this herd managed to escape. The rest of the pride only appeared afterward, wondering where their dinner was.
My next Africa trip took us to South Africa, where we were able to get up close and personal with lions at MalaMala Game Reserve. Just as we headed out on our first game drive, we came across a pride on a fresh buffalo kill.
MalaMala allowed us our first opportunities to see them at night. During subsequent South Africa trips we’ve had a number of lion encounters during night drives.
In 2012, we made our first visit to the Kalahari Desert, known for its black-maned lions. This image accompanied my short piece about the death of Cecil the Lion.
That same trip saw us back in the Greater Kruger area and, once again, MalaMala. There were other opportunities for monochrome lion images…
And at one point we were able to follow a lioness back to her den site. Nobody knew where she had stashed her young cubs (maybe 4-5 weeks old) until we caught a brief glimpse of them.
In 2016, a couple of brothers spent time near our vehicle while I was leading my South Africa tour. The intense stare of a male lion has to be the most intimidating look in the animal kingdom.
My 2019 Tanzania tour was tremendous when it came to lion encounters. We witnessed multiple hunts and, of course, this dramatic standoff between a pride and a lone lioness.
This little zebra somehow managed to escape the same pride moments earlier.
We even saw lions in trees…
And had a few moments with a mom and her cute cubs.
If you wish to see more of my lion photos, you may implement a keyword search for “lion” in the photo archive. Note that I don’t have shots from any of my earlier Africa trips (2007 – 2012) in there yet. Hey, I’m working on it!
Here’s a rundown of lion-related articles I’ve written in the past:
2019 Tanzania Photo Preview (more images of the lion fight)